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Promising start in New York City, except for the FC
by Paul Gardner, May 25th, 2013 4:55PM

MOST READ
TAGS:  england, mls

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It looks like the 20th MLS team will be Manchester City FC. The name will be changed, of course it will. MLS plus ManCity -- plenty of expensive brainpower involved in that discussion, one would think -- have decided that the new club is to be New York City FC. Which is fine. Except for one thing. You will not win any prizes for working out what’s wrong with it, and I shall return to the matter later in this column.
 
For the rest, how can MLS resist an association with one of the world’s top clubs, certainly one of the richest. The money part comes from ManCity’s owner, Sheikh Mansour from Abu Dhabi. Which is one of the Emirates that compose the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Oil money. The Abu Dhabi group took over ManCity in 2008, since when the club has rarely been out of the headlines, mostly because of the huge amounts of money Sheikh Mansour has been spending on it, and much less frequently, because the club has had success on the field. Two successes, actually: Winners of the FA Cup in 2011, and the Premier League in 2012.
 
Failure to repeat last season’s Premier League triumph has cost coach Roberto Mancini his job, and the club is currently touring the USA under former assistant coach Brian Kidd.
 
That is, not to mince words, a rather mixed record. But one can say this about ManCity: It does not look like your typical English club. The ownership is foreign, and two of the top executives are Spanish. Not only that, they have both spent serious time working with Barcelona. Ferran Soriano, who is ManCity’s CEO, spent five years (2003-08) as vice-president and general manager of Barcelona, while Txiki Begiristain was Barca’s Director of Soccer from 2003-10.
 
It was Soriano who spoke at the New York press conference, from a platform that included New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, and representatives from the New York Yankees. Soriano made a point of stressing, repeatedly, that NYCFC would play not only winning soccer, but “beautiful” soccer too. OK -- one can quibble -- will this be Barca’s version, or ManCity’s version of beautiful soccer? There is an obvious difference. But the fact that a commitment to playing stylish soccer was emphasized is unusual -- talk of the aesthetic, even the artistic, value of the soccer usually gets buried among the boasts about winning everything that fill this type of club announcement.
 
Soriano also offered sensible and sensitive comments about what looks like being the club’s thorniest problem: Finding somewhere to play. His message was that the club needs need more than a stadium, it needs a permanent home: “We're not looking for a place to play. We're looking for a home. So we need the local community to embrace us, to be our family and we're taking it from there. We want to listen to everybody.”
 
The listening must include hearing the views of local residents  -- what Mayor Bloomberg referred to as “serious community investment.” MLS has already done a lot of work trying to find a suitable stadium site, and there has been a lot of publicity for the plans it has drawn up for an arena to be built in Queens, within Flushing Meadows park. A plan that has the backing of Bloomberg.
 
But this plan has aroused noisy opposition. Inevitably. Taking away a chunk of New York’s ultra-valuable parkland and turning it over to a commercially operated stadium is not going to be an easy sell. For a start, think of it this way: No one would dream of building a stadium in New York’s Central Park ... but that’s Manhattan, where the rich and powerful live. But it’s OK to make exactly that move out in Queens, among much less wealthy and fashionable communities. A snub for lowly Queens, then.
 
Maybe Soriano realizes this, maybe he’s already been listening to the Yankees -- who do indeed have experience of exactly this problem (the new Yankee Stadium was built on some 24 acres of public parkland). The Yankees eventually won that battle, but it went on for years. The new stadium opened in 2009, but the parkland replacement areas, which the Yankees agreed to provide, had to wait until 2012. These new areas include, just across the street from Yankee Stadium, a narrow soccer field.
 
Whatever, it did seem to me that the general euphoria surrounding the NYCFC announcement did not include many mentions of the Flushing Meadow site plans. There were several references to studying “alternative sites.” Hence Soriano: “We know that the league and the city have been working on this potential stadium [in Queens]. We'll continue these discussions and we will look at other options.”
 
Sidetracking slightly, another name that did not come up during the ManCity-Yankees-MLS-NYCFC fest was that of the Cosmos. The reborn club is busy signing players (to start play this August in the NASL) and is apparently working on plans to build a stadium -- in Queens, near the Belmont race track. But what now happens to the Cosmos frequently announced plans to join MLS as the 20th team, the second New York team, when that option has been snatched away by NYCFC? In fact, what now happens to the Cosmos?
 
That the plight of the Cosmos should not be allowed to dampen the NYCFC enthusiasm is understandable. But it was odd that the MLS plans for a Queens stadium got so little attention. It becomes suspiciously odd when you realize that no one is mentioning one of the key reasons why that particular site in Queens is attractive: That it is right next to areas of Queens that are home to huge soccer-loving Latino communities. There are those -- I am one of them -- who feel that a Latino-flavored New York team would be the best path for this new franchise, and for MLS, to take. There are others who feel, for whatever reason, that such a strategy would be a mistake.
 
It is extremely unlikely, then, that NYCFC will have its home ready for the scheduled start of play in 2015. So maybe the team plays that season in Yankee Stadium? Not an easy fit -- the conflict of schedules causes problems, and there seems to be still a feeling among baseball people that soccer games -- or even just one game -- will play havoc with baseball fields.
 
Back in 1976, when the Cosmos did play a season in the old Yankee Stadium, I recall arriving for a game there one July evening, to find the gates locked, with groups of fans hanging about on the sidewalks. The Yankees had decided, at the last minute, to call the game off -- they had the right to do that -- fearing that rainy weather plus a soccer game would rip up their field. A few years earlier, when several baseball stadiums were in use by the fledgling North American Soccer League, the term “soccer divot” entered the baseball vocabulary, a convenient excuse for any fielding errors.
 
We can assume that the stadium problems - finding the right site, satisfying the local community, mastering the Byzantine negotiations with New York politicians - are all solvable. If only because similar problems have been worked out in this city before.
 
A totally new problem - new, because it is specific to soccer - is now involved, and it’s not at all clear how this one will be resolved. This is the soccer part. Soriano’s promised “beautiful soccer.”
 
If this were simply a case of an English team running an MLS franchise, you could be totally sure there would be no beautiful game, and equally sure that the enterprise would end, probably quite quickly, in abject failure (exactly as the first attempt, entirely Brit-controlled, to re-launch the Cosmos ran aground in 2011 after only one year of mismanagement).
 
But the ManCity I have briefly profiled above has the look and the sound and the feel of something different. It has made, quickly, a significant move in appointing Claudio Reyna as its director of soccer. Reyna’s background as someone who grew up and learned his soccer in and around New York, and who also had a spell at ManCity, looks almost too good to be true. But it gets better, for Reyna’s Latino background suggests that ManCity have given serious thought to that key aspect of the New York soccer scene.
 
ManCity has also been rather quietly running -- for several years now -- City Soccer in the Community, a social program for disadvantaged kids in New York and several other American cities.
 
Asked about the possibility that ManCity might, so to speak, simply kidnap any talented young American boys it discovers here and whisk them off to England, Soriano was quick to deny any such intentions and did seem to be aware of the sensitivities involved.
 
The undeniable tendency of foreign clubs -- particularly the English ones -- to treat American soccer as an undeveloped project where ignorance and naivete reign, is something that MLS has to deal with. And I’m not sure that MLS is dealing with it too well.
 
The days when America’s soccer leaders felt the need to play a sycophantic role on the world stage should by now have been forgotten. There is a growing American presence in the sport, both on the field and at the top organizational levels. But MLS still occasionally behaves as though it is a forelock-tugging
minor-league operator.
 
Back to New York City FC, heralded as New York’s second MLS club, ready to create an instant soccer rivalry with the Red Bulls, who live across the Hudson River in New Jersey. But that name, that “FC,” announces not a soccer club, but a Football Club.
 
Now the last time I checked -- which was this morning, this is New York we’re dealing with, and you never know -- there were already two long-established and highly successful local football clubs: The New York Giants, and the New York Jets. They belong to a body known as the National Football League. There are no soccer clubs operating within the NFL.
 
What then is Major League Soccer doing when it allows its clubs to use those FC letters? It already has four FC clubs. It should be telling those clubs to switch to an SC designation, not adding a fifth football club.
 
There is evidently an awareness by both MLS and ManCity that this is a slippery area, with neither side wanting to claim the responsibility. Soriano told me that the FC designation was not ManCity’s idea, and spoke of “A collective effort.” MLS Commissioner Don Garber was equally vague, but said that he felt the FC tag “satisfied” ManCity.
 
Soriano deflected further questions with the point that MLS already has other clubs using FC. Indeed it does, so what’s the big deal?
 
Well, the big deal here is the strength, the authority and the credibility of MLS. Which includes the word soccer in its title, not football. Does MLS think that if it allows enough clubs to call themselves FCs, then the NFL will cave in and change its name? If it doesn’t believe that, then why is it propagating the use of a term that is already embedded in the American vocabulary as the name for a different sport? Surely it cannot be that MLS is spoiling for a copyright battle with the NFL?
 
At its worst, this willingness on the part of Garber and MLS to allow its member clubs to use titles signifying another sport is a sign of weakness, a sign that the days of cultural cringe before things English are not yet over. We see it most obviously in the pathetic belief of American TV companies that a British accent somehow confers authenticity on a soccer telecast.
 
But why on earth would MLS, which should be the leader in creating a truly American voice for the sport, choose to ignore American word usage and opt for the word football ... simply because that’s the word the English use?
 
P.S. This being soccer, there is a typically perverse angle to the soccer vs football controversy. Soccer is not, as so many seem to believe, an American word. Its etymology is totally English.



22 comments
  1. Jogo Bonito
    commented on: May 26, 2013 at 12:09 a.m.
    Agreed. It's embarrassing and downright pathetic that the MLS continue this juvenile effort to try to be Europe. The influence they have on our young players is something they need to take more responsibly. Instead, they send a message that's saying, "Be ashamed of who you are" We already have REAL Salt Lake and SPORTING @&#%ing Kansas City! What's next? Borussia Baltimore? Spartak Detroit? And don't get me started on the annoying, know-it-all Brits that so many MLS teams feel a need put into the commentator's booth. Hopefully the NYC team doesn't listen Garber and Nelson Rodriguez and continue this American self-hating soccer nonsense.

  1. jordao jordao
    commented on: May 26, 2013 at 1:22 a.m.
    The whole football vs handegg dilemma rears its ugly Gardner head...

  1. Jim Williams
    commented on: May 26, 2013 at 7:04 a.m.
    As for the naming thing the sport was called football long before the NFL even existed so it really doesn't matter. Basically the NFL plays rugby not football. What concerns me more is why are we putting another team in NY? The Red Bulls aren't filling the stands now so why the need? There are cities who would love to get a MLS franchise and they are ignored. I realize you need an investor(s) to step up but I would think you'd want to spread the teams around instead of 1/4 of the league in two states.

  1. Claudio Garcia chamorro
    commented on: May 26, 2013 at 8:07 a.m.
    I agree with Mr. Williams in respect to the name of the sport - football - which should have nothing to do with the NFL. How could anyone honestly and seriously feel that a game that is played 99.99% with your hands and arms be called. History dictates that the real FOOTBALL sport has been around longer than the American game called football. Soccer - I have always wondered who came up with the name and what made him/her/them named it that way ! Didn't this entity do its homework? It's a sport that has been around long before the NFL was even created and named FOOTBALL all around the world .... How can this creator simply blow it??? American/NFL football is a laughing stock amongst individuals around the WORLD and foreigners living in the USA when a discussion is created in relation to "why the North Americans call it football when the foot is only used for .01 % of the game. Ok, I am been a bit vicious with percentages - but hopefully point is well served. To EVERYONE that knows the sport if FOOTBALL and NOT the NFL one knows that there is only one FOOTBALL and that it definitely not housed in the NFL. The mere fact that the real FOOTBALL is mostly played by running feet and that even a touch of your hand by any player with the exception of the goalie should serve as a bona fide indicator of the real sport of FOOTBALL. For all of those that do not agree with this, and I am sure that there would be many, please don't take offense. Go to any part of the world and simple ask or say FOOTBALL and you'll see what the response will be. There will be no discussion of no NFL anything but the names of Mesi, Ronaldo, Pele, Beckham, Brasil, Spain, Argentina, France, England, and endless amount of countries and players name would certainly come up. The NFL should change its name to ... NFAAAHL National Football and Arms and Hands League or something along those lines. Soccer word should be place where it belongs - not in the real game of FOOTBALL, the FIFA Football that is.

  1. BJ Genovese
    commented on: May 26, 2013 at 12:06 p.m.
    The fact of the matter is that majority of the players and fans of the sport at the comp level and higher in the US probably did not even blink an eye at the FC tag. This sport of soccer is laughed at in this country. Last night on ESPN the guy did not even now how to call the off sides highlight correctly. Grandparents act like they have no idea what sport little Johnny is participating in because they are clueless to the game. Most of the ravenous fans already watch more European soccer than MLS anyway so they can see incredibly technical players and amazing build up. I rarely watch MLS with my boy because Im to worried he will think its ok to just boot the ball mindlessly into the air when confronted by one defender in your attacking third. If a European club wants to come over here and give a go at showing the US how the game is supposed to be played then bring it on. I want to know more about there youth academy plans. Stop focusing on the American or European branding of the game and remember that its the world game. People that watch the world game have a richer and more global tolerance. I feel like this article was a bit contrived. If these questions were truly asked at press conference than we embarrassed ourselves again with our soccer/football/futbol skewed point of view.

  1. Chris Morris
    commented on: May 26, 2013 at 3:39 p.m.
    Paul Gardner is good on etymology (word history); soccer is originally a British term. He’s not so good on copyright. The idea that the New York Giants or Jets could hold a copyright on the word “football” is about as likely as the NY Racing Association saying NASCAR or whoever cannot use the word Racing because it was first applied to horses. At any rate, the New York Giants are not be the ideal example of a team that could protest the borrowing of a club name. Their entire name was lifted from a baseball team, the original New York Giants (who had different owners). Why? In hopes of capitalizing on the popularity of an established, historic team. Same thing here. However, if enough U.S. fans are like Mr. Gardner and detest the use of “FC,” then their protests will cause MLS teams to drop the usage. For now, it seems like most people either like it, or don’t care.

  1. Michael Haltom
    commented on: May 26, 2013 at 5:21 p.m.
    Paul Gardner is right. By refusing to accept American word usage, MLS is refusing to acknowledge that the game is part of the American sporting landscape. Long treatises about how the sport we call football is really rugby (a form of football, by the way) and we're laughed at by other "footballing" countries because we refuse to fall in line miss the main point: most of this country calls the game soccer. When you talk about football clubs in New York, most people think Giants and Jets. When they find out you're mean Red Bulls, they think, "What a pretentious idiot." Football in the USA means the game played by the NFL. That is not good or bad or right or wrong. It just is. We don't have bonnets and boots on our automobiles, and we put on hundreds of dollars worth of plastic armor to play football. That's just the way it is. For the record, we are not alone in this. One of the great footballing nations, one with an outstanding history that includes European Championships and World Cups, call the game something other than football (which is a foreign word everywhere they speak something other than English). They have chosen, rightly and proudly, to call the game what they call it, and not what someone in London thinks it should be called. That is why you don't have FC Milan.

  1. Footballer Forever
    commented on: May 26, 2013 at 7:32 p.m.
    Mr. Gardner, I've read this full article various times and each time I read it, it sound there's other issues you feel ingrained other than simply a US sports franchise referred to as football club in any way, shape or form in North America. First, it sounds troublesome to you that Manchester City Football Club from England and an Arab foreign oil rich billionaire from Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mansour, will own a sports team/franchise/football club in America or let alone in New York. Second, it sounds annoying that two of the top NYCFC executives are Spaniards, not SPANISH as you naively indicated, and that Claudio Reina with a "Latino" background was named director of Football operations. Now the last time I checked, Spanish is a language mostly spoken in Spain and America which you might refer it to Latin America or simply anything south of the USA. That is not counting the millions of Spanish speaking residents, or illegals as you MIGHT refer them to, who live in the USA too. Third, it sounds you are not that kind to anything British even in "soccer" terms as you noted: "If this were simply a case of an English team running an MLS franchise, you could be totally sure there would be no beautiful game, and equally sure that the enterprise would end, probably quite quickly, in abject failure (exactly as the first attempt, entirely Brit-controlled"). Correct me if I am wrong, but maybe I've logged to a soccer website strictly for NFL/MLB/NBA/NHL/Nascar minded American fans, not fans who love football/soccer who live in America regardless of background. Now to the main topic of the NY franchise named New York City Football Club or NYCFC, I have not come across any other place that has mentioned it or made it an issue about it, but someone who writes about the sport daily does? Could it be that others ignored it, don't care, or are accepting that football/association football or football club equals soccer vs American football team= NFL, well, it may be a mix of them all. The main thing you should remember is that Football, even in UK English terms, is a worlwide sport name used by multiple countries and referred to it as Futbol, Fussball, Futebol,fotbal, futball, butbolas, etc even if it was phonetically adjusted to their language such as Baseball is known as Beisbol in Spanish speaking countries. Anyways, when I was younger I almost subscribed to SoccerAmerica and that won't change anytime soon specially with a sound tone like yours who beside making an issue of a sport referred worldwide as football simply because it contradicts the NFL. Simply, An MLS/football fan.

  1. Chris St. Hilaire
    commented on: May 27, 2013 at 1:39 a.m.
    I read a lot of your editorials....and it seems most of your points are pointless, and that's when I can even discern what you're trying to say. Man City doesn't understand America, MLS shouldn't allow clubs to call themselves "FC"? NYFC steps on the poor of Queens by taking away their parks? PLEASE. Try one thematic in editorials. It would be so much more impactful for the reader.

  1. Bill Anderson
    commented on: May 27, 2013 at 3 p.m.
    I'm confused now that Gardner has opined. Is NYCFC going to compete in the league with the NY Red Bull or the NY Jets? Way to contrive another non-issue.

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: May 28, 2013 at 12:32 a.m.
    Plenty of expensive brainpower? Everything will be for "naught" unless a TRADITIONAL PROFESSIONAL LEAGUE IS IMPLEMENTED! Next thing they're going to bring over here is a SQUARE BALL!!! They tell me it will never happen...that's like telling the rest of the world, "Screw you and your Promotion/Relegation systems! That's why they look at US Soccer as pretty much to say it mildly, " a fun place to play!" We will never be competitive at this rate!

  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: May 28, 2013 at 11:18 a.m.
    I'll come at this from the other side: It is the word 'soccer' that ought to be banished. Not because I'm an Anglophile (far from it), but because as Paul points out, the etymology of 'soccer' is *entirely* British English. As long as we're considering the Latino angle, as indeed NYCFC seems to be doing, 'FC' works in Spanish as well as English (indeed it may be nearly universal), whereas 'SC' *only* works for English. If 'FC' is objectionable because it expands to 'Football Club', one could use 'CF' instead, which stands for 'Club de Futbol'. (Both 'FC' and 'CF' are used in Spain, so either is bilingual.) In fact if I was in charge of all this I'd drop the 'City' part, since that is entirely Anglo, and go with NYCF (or FC), which is more easily bilingual, meaning either New York CF or Nueva York CF. (But we all know why 'City ' and 'FC' are being used, right?)

  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: May 28, 2013 at 11:32 a.m.
    BTW, as long as we're objecting to imported club designations; the one I despise is Real. Real is a Spanish word meaning Royal, as in the club has a royal charter. I am no monarchist or fan of monarchy, and this country never was one (and hopefully will never be one). If ever there was an inappropriate club designation it is that one. All the other ones (and Jogo Bonito you forgot 'DYNAMO' haha) can at least arguably make sense. 'Sporting', why not? 'Dynamo' is an English word and certainly less objectionable than 'Redskins'; 'United' is cool (though it does have a certain meaning with respect to the club's history, which is absent in the case of DC), etc.

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: May 28, 2013 at 12:22 p.m.
    Good Morning Soccer/Football Lovers: This headline comes from Soccer Americas, "Yanks Abroad." Does anyone know what "Boyd scores 17th goal; Johnson's Hoffenheim "stays up" means? Let me explain: At the beginning of the 1990s, the club was an obscure local amateur side playing in the eighth division Baden-Württemberg A-Liga. They steadily improved and by 1996 were competing in the Verbandsliga Nordbaden (V).The 2007–08 season was Hoffenheim's first season in professional football. The 2008–09 season was Hoffenheim's first season in the German top division. So my question is, how do the NASL and USL Teams get promoted to the MLS Division? I am sure you all know that if a "true" Domestic Championship within our 3 Domestic leagues is created, the "game" in the United States will jump "levels" simply due to the COMPETITION, PRIZE AND CONSEQUENCE. Until then, WE ARE STRUGGLING PEOPLE!!!

  1. Anthony Calabrese
    commented on: May 28, 2013 at 5:11 p.m.
    I am an American living in the UK. I use the words soccer and football interchangably now. Bu tthe comments about it, seriously folks. The ENGLISH invented the word soccer -- it is the minority word for the sport to be sure, but still used elsewhere than the US. In fact, I was at the Football Museum in Manchester recently and saw exhibits of games using the term "soccer" in its name.

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: May 28, 2013 at 8:30 p.m.
    Anthony...it doesn't matter...we need a LEAGUE...that's what matters!

  1. Charles O'Cain
    commented on: May 29, 2013 at 9:14 a.m.
    I'm with Ramon and Peter on this one. Out with "soccer" (the upper class English slang derogative) and in with promotion/relegation.

  1. Peter Skouras
    commented on: May 29, 2013 at 10:40 a.m.
    Good Morning Soccer/Footballing America:) Charles: Did you see what happened to us yesterday vs France? Did you see the French? Fantastic 18-20 (what happens before 18 years of age is another story) Believe me..."NO PAY TO PLAY HERE) year old Professionals playing in "Full Time" COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENTS which of course Promo/Releg is where a "player" tests his and the clubs maxim...to say the least!!! Many are signed with French 2nd Division clubs. Charles: To be fair, the US has wonderful talent, "all over the place!" They simply cannot reach their MAXIM with the current Domestic Structure! The same with the MLS! However and also to be frank, BIG DIFFERENCE COMPARED TO THE FRENCH! We simply cannot RUN with them! Psych wise cannot compete! Wait til you see the Finals in Turkey! Representing the US-U15's in the Montaigu Tournament in 1978, we got beaten by France 5-1...however, we lost to W. Germany 1-0, tied Portugal and Romania 0-0. My point...we're still in 1978 regarding standard!!!! The entire US Domestic Structure must be rebuilt...and those making money off the game and producing what we are seeing should go look for another job! Let's have a good day, Peter

  1. Joseph Stehle
    commented on: May 29, 2013 at 12:10 p.m.
    Football (as the rest of the world knows it) or soccer if you prefer, is not just the beautiful game.....It is the worlds game!!! If MLS's goal is to reach the level of other world leagues, it must start broadening its mentality beyond our shores. Start by: 1). killing the franchise idea and setup tiers of 1-2-3 Leagues. You are in the bug leagues by "merit" not "$$$". 2). Have national competitions outside the league pegging 1-2-3 league division teams against each other (nothing like seeing a team composed of firemen and electricians beat the big boys!!) 3). Sometimes call it.... football like the rest of the world.. --> This is a start of changing the game in the U.S.A. where football/soccer leagues lag behind the rest of the world. Then soon we too can be respected in the international arena!!!

  1. Joseph Stehle
    commented on: May 29, 2013 at 12:16 p.m.
    By the way, I still want to support NY Cosmos.... Please look at their website and their "Cosmos Cup" tournament in NYC. Fantastic idea, with international touch!! --> It is an adult amateur competition pegging teams of NY residents from different countries against each other. The best part is winning team gets to meet Pele!!!!!

  1. Dan Phillips
    commented on: May 30, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.
    Why not build stadium next to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. There is a soccer field there already. All you need is the granstands. Easy!

  1. Robert Robertson
    commented on: May 31, 2013 at 9:27 a.m.
    Interesting article - don't agree with Phil about FC. It is not only the English who use FC but many parts of the world. Soccer is a world sport not an "American" sport. There is no reason to 'Americanize' the nomenclature per say. Soccers appeal to those of us born here will be its world nature. We can join the world in the world's game. As for announcers on broadcasts - the goal should be to get the most creative,colorful, and knowledgeable regardless of their origin.


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